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Restricted chemicals found in home electronics

News 12/13/2016

Almost four of ten electrical low-price products which the Swedish Chemicals Agency has examined contain prohibited chemicals. Among other things, the Agency found harmful substances in lamps and USB contacts.

“Our enforcement project shows that it is common for cheap home electronics to contain prohibited chemicals. The individual products does not pose a great risk but they entail problems for both health and the environment in the long run,” says Mariana Pilenvik, Inspector at the Swedish Chemicals Agency.

During 2016 the Swedish Chemicals Agency checked the content of 154 electrical and electronic low-price products. In total 84 companies were inspected in the project. Headphones, bike lights and USB contacts are among the articles the Agency analysed. It was found that 58 of the examined products, 38 per cent, contained too high levels of prohibited chemical substances.

In the project a high level of lead was detected in the soldering inside several products. Lead is a toxic substance which can harm the nervous system and affect, for example, the ability to learn. You do not access the lead in the soldering during normal use of the products, so this has the greatest impact during manufacturing, at the waste stage or if lead is released into the environment.

In the soft plastic of some cords the Swedish Chemicals Agency found short chain chlorinated paraffins, a substance hazardous to the environment which is also suspected to cause cancer. Several plastic parts of the products also contained plasticising phthalates. All phthalates are not harmful, but some can affect the testicles and make it more difficult to have children. At present phthalates are not prohibited in electrical and electronic products, but some of them are included in the EU’s candidate list of substances of very high concern. This means that those who sell articles which contain phthalates such as, for example, DEHP in levels above 0.1 percentage by weight are liable to inform about this.

The inspections are random checks and therefore the results do not reflect the entire market of electrical low-price products. The sale of all products which contained too high levels of prohibited substances was terminated and the products were withdrawn from the stores after the examination. 30 of the inspected companies were reported to prosecutors for suspicion of environmental offence.

“The companies are responsible for ensuring that the products do not contain prohibited chemical substances. By imposing clear chemical requirements on their suppliers and ensuring adherence to legislation, the companies also contribute to a non-toxic daily life and non-toxic environment,” says Mariana Pilenvik.

The rules for substances which may be found in electrical and electronic products are contained in different EU directives and regulations. In the enforcement project, the Swedish Chemicals Agency has investigated whether the products contain substances which are prohibited pursuant to the RoHS Directive, POPs Regulation or which are covered by the duty to communicate information pursuant to the REACH Regulation. Products with too high levels of a restricted substance may not be put on the EU market. The Swedish Chemicals Agency reports manufacturers and importers for suspicion of crime when their products contain substances restricted in the RoHS Directive. When products contain substances which are restricted in the POPs Regulation or which are regulated in the REACH Regulation, both manufacturers, importers and distributors are reported to the environmental prosecutor.

Read the report (in Swedish, summary in English on page 6)

For more information, please feel free to contact:

Mariana Pilenvik, inspector, +46 8 519 41 341

Magdalena Salomonsson, inspector, +46 8 519 41 396

The Swedish Chemicals Agency’s press service, +46 8 519 41 200, press@kemi.se

E-mail addresses of the Swedish Chemicals Agency’s employees are written as follows: firstname.surname@kemi.se

Four tips for consumers on chemicals in home electronics

  • Even though the risk is small, you can avoid placing computers, TVs and other electronics in children’s bedrooms.
  • Prevent children from unscrewing electrical devices and do not allow small children to put electronics, for example, mobile phones in their mouth.
  • Discard old electrical devices and electronic waste in the municipality’s environmental station or recycling centre.
  • All electronic home equipment should be CE-marked as evidence that it fulfils the European safety requirements.

Facts: Substances which the Swedish Chemicals Agency found in electrical products

  • Lead can, among other things, damage the nervous system and entail lower intellectual development and performance. Foetuses and small children are particularly sensitive. Users cannot access lead in soldering during normal usage of products and therefore it has the greatest impact during manufacturing, at the waste stage or if lead is released into the environment.
  • Short chain chlorinated paraffins are harmful for aquatic organisms. They are also highly persistent, do not break down in nature and it is suspected that they are carcinogenic.
  • Phthalates is a group of substances in which all are not harmful, but some phthalates can impact the testicles and make it more difficult to have children and some are suspected to cause a hormonal imbalance. As of 22 July 2019, four phthalates (DEHP, DIBP, DBP and BBP) will be restricted in electrical and electronic products.

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